Author brings grassroots activists alive for a centennial nod to the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.
As women’s issues — from pay equity to sexual harassment — influence the 2020 political season, so does the centennial commemoration of the Constitutional Amendment giving women voting powers to influence those issues.
Elaine Weiss, an award-winning journalist who votes in every election and whose family by marriage has held leadership positions in the Detroit Jewish community, is at the center of centennial events as she discusses her book detailing leaders active in the campaign for the 19th Amendment.
The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote (Viking) is being transitioned into a television production by Steven Spielberg because of one impressed reader who carried women’s rights to a new level by running for president. Hillary Clinton suggested the adaptation.
“I wanted to make this very important historical story, which has been overlooked, into something that people would want to read,” says Weiss, whose husband, Julian Krolik, grew up in Detroit, graduated from Cass Technical High School and became a professor of astrophysics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
“It’s a narrative history with a story, arc and characters. I wanted my readers to understand these women and the men who helped, why they would devote part of their lives to the cause of winning the vote and what was in their backgrounds to propel them to devote themselves to this.
“It wasn’t professional politicos. It was grassroots citizens, ordinary activists who joined together. I wanted to view these historical characters as people. The movement went way beyond our quick understanding of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. There were tens of thousands more.”
Included in her narration are Jewish leaders important to the movement, especially as the book focuses on Tennessee, the last state to ratify. In contrast, Michigan became one of the first states to ratify the amendment 100 years ago on June 10, 1919, and the state is recalled along with the general history of the peaceful suffragists and the more militant suffragettes beyond Tennessee.
The way an amendment enters the Constitution is that it must be passed by Congress with a two-thirds majority and ratified by three-quarters of the states.
One Jewish leader was artist Anita Pollitzer, a strong member of the National Women’s Party. Another was Joseph Hanover, a Polish immigrant who became floor manager for the suffrage vote in the Tennessee House.
Weiss can relate their commitment to the community commitment of her husband’s family.
“My husband’s grandfather, Julian H. Krolik, was the first president and one of the founders of the Jewish Welfare Federation of Detroit,” she says. A volume of the Michigan Jewish Historical Society’s Michigan Jewish History from 2008 says he also was president of the North End Clinic, held top offices at United Jewish Charities, the Jewish Community Center and Sinai Hospital and was “one of the most notable leaders of the Allied Jewish Campaign.” Additionally, he was the first recipient of the Fred M. Butzel Award. The two were good friends and fellow philanthropists.
Her husband’s grandmother, Golda Ginsburg Mayer Krolik, seemed to be of similar nature to the women described in her granddaughter-in-law’s book. As a student at the University of Michigan, Golda Krolik was the first woman reporter on the Michigan Daily.
Golda Krolik went on to serve with the Jewish Welfare Federation and the wider-based United Foundation. Committed to civil rights, she gave her attention to the Urban League and the Mayor’s Committee on Civil Rights. The author’s mother-in-law, Bessie Krolik, was a member of the committee that built Jewish housing and then lived in the result.
Barbara Mayer, an aunt and the last of the relatives still in Michigan, has been recognized for volunteer efforts benefiting Orchards Children’s Services.
In the book, supplemented with pictures of the times, the main leaders include Carrie Chapman Catt, a leader of the National American Woman Suffrage Association; Alice Paul, a leader of the National Woman’s Party; and Sue Shelton White, a lieutenant of Alice Paul.
Weiss explains why some women, including Josephine Pearson of Tennessee, were working against the suffrage movement. One issue had to do with race and the status of black women given the right to vote.
“This fight was not simple or clear-cut,” explains Weiss, who points out the suffrage movement began at a time when women were working toward the 16th Amendment, which would establish an income tax. “There were compromises and betrayals over three generations of activists. The women who began it were dead when the amendment was passed. Women who put it over the finish line weren’t born when the movement began.
“It took enormous vision, political strategy, vigilance and courage as some were imprisoned, tortured and vilified. It was not socially acceptable to do it, and yet they persisted. They kept going after defeat, after defeat, after defeat.
“After ratification, the anti-suffragists didn’t give up. Their lawyer said the 19th Amendment was unconstitutional, but Justice Louis Brandeis, in 1922, wrote the decision that brought opposition to an end at a time when women already had been voting.”
Encouraging the Vote
Weiss, who has written for major magazines, had an earlier book about women: Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army of America in the Great War.
“I was writing about women activists of World War I,” she explains. “Many of these were suffragists so there’s a continuing thread.”
The Nashville Public Library is highlighting her book for its summer reading program, which will culminate with her as speaker and have associated activities. On the online signup, there’s a button to click to register to vote.
“The idea that my book is being used to encourage voting is very important,” Weiss says. “I want to put it to work in the present tense so that it’s not just a good read but working in the world today when voting rights are under attack again, and we need better and more widespread participation in our elections.”
The next large Michigan event to commemorate the passage of the 19th Amendment is scheduled for Aug. 31 in Genesee County. The Suffrage March at Crossroads Village will recall suffrage parades with women wearing white dresses and purple sashes.
To find out about getting involved in commemorative events, go to womensvote100.org.